A quick update. I’m back in Juba after a quick trip down south to Nimule National Park; I’m now tied up in a week’s worth of meetings on the designs for the future South Sudan National Archives building, and on fire safety and pest control in our current location (which is conveniently full of bugs and dodgy wiring, with rains coming). I’m also trying to keep the flagging staff motivated, while looking for key files for digitisation (see after the cut for a good historical find), and organising staff meetings and teams on future protection issues in the medium-term before we get our beautiful shiny permanent building in 2015.
Tag Archives: blogging
I’ve been reading Chris Mackowski’s blog about his first trip to Uganda, and realising that in many ways this is now a travel blog as much as a stream of consciousness journal about doing a PhD. Chris has had an interesting reaction to his post on his feelings about travelling to Uganda, where he discusses his hopes for personal development and eye-opening experiences.
One commenter said:
Africa is your chance as a PHd student to wake up? Sad.
After a lengthy summer hiatus, while I gave some conference papers and tidied up my affairs in England, I’m back to posting, and I’m back to Juba.
I’m starting a six month period of Arabic study, which I’m going to spend in Juba, learning modern standard Arabic in classes and trying to pick up Khartoum Arabic from my friends from Khartoum. At the same time, I’m going to be back working at the National Archives of South Sudan. I’m working with the RVI on a six-month emergency intervention – the umpteenth the archive has seen over the years – and will be trying to manage the final eviction of the archives from the USAID tent. I’m really hoping to finally get to go through the 1980s and 1990s documents that we were just, just piling up when I left earlier this summer.
So! I’m in Nairobi, getting things together for a move back to Juba. The blog will be a bit more active from now on.
What happens when what you write about becomes a political event? History does crop up in public debates, such as Niall Ferguson’s championing of empire as a positive thing. During the protests over university fees changes at Cambridge University, the comments on this news article called into question the validity and relevance of my field (African history) – incidentally through the quoting of one of my old tutors.
This week, David Starkey gets a new platform on Jamie Oliver’s Dream School programme for his misogynistic ranting about the “feminising” of history and how irrelevant women are in studying the past.
These are all things I’ve considered blogging about but haven’t; not out of a lack of frustration and things to say, but because I’m not sure I want to – or have to – respond to every public debate that touches on something I do. However, as revolutions and protests, or discussion of potential protests or why there aren’t any protests, spread across China, India, Zimbabwe and many other countries, it’s particularly tempting to give historical background to events and add your tuppence to the often frustratingly poor analysis.
I’ve been doing this with Sudan: initially about the referendum for secession, which I feel happier about commenting on because I feel I’ve done some work on it, but then with some comment on the small-scale protests and death of a student in clashes with state security in Khartoum, echoing events in Tunisia and Egypt at the time. I initially posted round-ups of links to various other news sources and the facebook pages of the organisers, but have gradually begun commenting on the analyses of the protests put about – particularly arguments about why the protests “failed”. I’ve been gradually sucked in.
With all the talk of using your blog to promote your academic interests, as an outlet for brainstorming and discussion with a wider community, should we be wary of suddenly becoming political commentators? I’m concerned that there is a danger that at some point I’ll become too strident, lose a professional tone, or more likely just not know enough about contemporary events to give a firm comment. I’ve decided that I’m going to continue writing about contemporary politics in Sudan as and when I feel I have a particular comment; the events in Sudan are massive historical moments, and I feel that if I can try to historicise and contextualise specifically Sudanese issues, I might be contributing comments from a slightly different perspective. However, I’m still considering what the boundaries of my blog topics should be, and trying to find a balance between contemporary debates and historical analysis.
It’s a rare (and lucky?) academic who gets to blog about sex, political corruption or criminal actions: the three things that get most bloggers in trouble. I definitely don’t – or at least, the political corruption I talk about isn’t likely to stop me from getting visas to Khartoum or getting arrested by the current regime any more than just being British would, for instance. But regardless, when I started my blog, I didn’t put my name or photograph on the front page. I didn’t really think about being anonymous, but did it because of the sense of caution you get when playing with the internet.
At the launch of the HBP, some said they were anonymous out of choice on their blogs, and others were surprised at this – why, if we’re all sitting there talking about disseminating research and creating wider intellectual discussion, would we not put our name to our arguments?
The reasons to be anonymous online – and by this I mean serious anonymity, like disguising IP addresses or using false email accounts – are usually about the personal, sensitive or potentially dangerous things being written about. Some bloggers risk losing their jobs, particularly those working as whistleblowers. Others want to write with honesty about personal or socially sensitive issues, and now that everyone gets googled before a job interview, anonymity is often the only way to do this. If you think this could in any way potentially apply to you, then it’s worth considering anonymity, and reading the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s legal guide for bloggers.
Some academic bloggers do post anonymously, including a large proportion of the female science community in the US, mostly because of discussions about sexism and glass ceilings, such as this post from FemaleScienceProfessor.
Just because you’re not posting, say, as a serving policeman, or as a student in Cairo, doesn’t mean that it isn’t a good idea to at least consider being anonymous when you post.
However, I’ve decided against being anonymous at the moment, partly because I don’t think I will be posting views that would jeopardise my position now or in the future. Being anonymous also undermines your efforts to build a community on your blog, and may deter people from contacting you: it’s ultimately an issue of trust, and if we want our thoughts to be respected and given weight, it’s worth putting our name – and the name of our institution – to our blogs.
The decisive reason for me to put my name to things over the last few weeks has actually been more personal. As well as being taken more seriously by others, I think that being known as the author of my blog means that I’m far more likely to take my own writing seriously, and therefore to write more measured and thoughtful posts. My stance would be: be aware of your privacy and how your stance on current affairs and issues is presenting you to others; it’s really important to think about the consequences of writing under your own name on your blog. But if you don’t have to be anonymous, then don’t be.
At the launch of the History Blogging Project, I was invited to give a brief talk on how blogging could potentially have ‘impact factor’ – the preferred term for the importance and influence your research and writing could have in the ‘real world’ (or as someone at the talk last night put it, to ‘ordinary people’).
Yolana will be posting my actual talk here, and I’m going to repost it under the cut.
Just leading on from what I spoke about then, though, I’ve been thinking about the reaction my talk got, specifically when I talked about the ESRC and AHRC’s admittedly amusing ideas of the impact our research should have, as quantifiable economic benefit and contributing to the life of the nation. People were very willing to approach blogging as a selfish, individual exercise, indulging yourself by writing about your own interests in a way that helps formulate your ideas and hone your writing skills (and ability to quickly churn out 500 words).
The audience yesterday, though, were less keen – or at least laughed more nervously – about the idea of thinking of your research as having a positive social impact in real terms. Other than the element of self-depreciation in this, I found this a bit strange, not only because I had the same reaction. But I do think of my research interests as not just interesting to me and maybe a few other people, but also important – I do think it’s important that we know more about what we see as ‘marginalised’ communities’ own organisation, not necessarily because I’m chasing an emancipatory kind of history but because I think it’s helpful to all to know about the people they are making decisions for.
So, regardless of the AHRC and ESRC’s overblown – and as someone suggested, written by a consultancy anyway – jargon about national intellectual capital and social wellbeing, don’t most researchers harbour some fantasies that their work is socially and politically important?